The cremasteric reflex and its muscle - a paragon of ongoing scientific discussion: A systematic review

Clin Anat. 2017 May;30(4):498-507. doi: 10.1002/ca.22875. Epub 2017 Apr 3.


The technique of triggering the cremasteric reflex and its respective signaling pathway is not described uniformly throughout the literature. As this reflex is a useful sign in diagnosing testicular torsion, orchitis, varicocele, and undescended testis, it seems desirable to identify and define the correct mechanism. Our aim was to investigate how the cremasteric reflex and its signaling pathway are described in the current literature and how the variability of the innervation of the inguinal region could affect the frequency of this reflex. Thirty-five original articles and 18 current textbooks were included after searching PubMed (MEDLINE) and Scopus for the terms "cremaster muscle," "cremasteric reflex," and "genitofemoral nerve" and after applying all exclusion criteria. This systematic review was performed according to the PRISMA Statement Rules. Eliciting the cremasteric reflex was defined either as "rubbing of the upper inner thigh" or "rubbing of the skin under the inguinal ligament." Four different afferent pathways among studies and three different pathways among textbooks were described and the frequency of an intact reflex ranged between 42.7 and 92.5% in newborns and between 61.7 and 100% in boys between 24 months and 12 years. Owing to the huge differences among the studies investigated and the lack of convincing results, it is not possible to define the correct way to elicit the cremasteric reflex. Four hypotheses about the afferent pathway are proposed on the basis of the literature. Further studies should be performed, concentrating on the afferent pathway(s) with respect to the individual innervation of the inguinal region. Clin. Anat. 30:498-507, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: cremasteric reflex; lumbar plexus; testicular torsion.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Humans
  • Lumbosacral Plexus / anatomy & histology
  • Male
  • Reflex*
  • Spermatic Cord Torsion / diagnosis*
  • Spermatic Cord Torsion / physiopathology
  • Testis / physiopathology*